Beyond financial conflicts of interest: Institutional oversight of faculty consulting agreements at schools of medicine and public health

ABSTRACT [FROM JOURNAL]

Importance: Approximately one-third of U.S. life sciences faculty engage in industry consulting. Despite reports that consulting contracts often impinge on faculty and university interests, institutional approaches to regulating consulting agreements are largely unknown.

Objective: To investigate the nature of institutional oversight of faculty consulting contracts at U.S. schools of medicine and public health.

Design: Structured telephone interviews with institutional administrators. Questions included the nature of oversight for faculty consulting agreements, if any, and views about consulting as a private versus institutional matter. Interviews were analyzed using a structured coding scheme.

Setting: All accredited schools of medicine and public health in the U.S.

Participants: Administrators responsible for faculty affairs were identified via internet searches and telephone and email follow-up. The 118 administrators interviewed represented 73% of U.S. schools of medicine and public health, and 75% of those invited to participate.

Intervention: Structured, 15–30 minute telephone interviews.

Main outcome and measures: Prevalence and type of institutional oversight; responses to concerning provisions in consulting agreements; perceptions of institutional oversight.

Results: One third of institutions (36%) required faculty to submit at least some agreements for institutional review and 36% reviewed contracts upon request, while 35% refused to review contracts. Among institutions with review, there was wide variation the issues covered. The most common topic was intellectual property rights (64%), while only 23% looked at publication rights and 19% for inappropriately broad confidentiality provisions. Six in ten administrators reported they had no power to prevent faculty from signing consulting agreements. Although most respondents identified institutional risks from consulting relationships, many maintained that consulting agreements are “private.”

Conclusions and Relavance: Oversight of faculty consulting agreements at U.S. schools of medicine and public health is inconsistent across institutions and usually not robust. The interests at stake suggest the need for stronger oversight.